Millions of people across Texas faced their third day without light or heat — and many without water — as the state remained in the frigid grip of winter storms. Pipes froze and burst across the state, icicles hung from kitchen faucets in Houston, ambulances in San Antonio were unable to meet the surging demand and the county government in coastal Galveston called for refrigerated trucks to hold the bodies they expect to find in freezing, powerless houses.
On Wednesday, the state was enduring another arctic blast, with an onslaught of sleet and freezing rain that the National Weather Service office in Austin/San Antonio called “the worst of all the winter events over the past week.” Snow was falling around Dallas-Fort Worth, and some spots in Texas were expected to pick up over a quarter inch of ice as the new storm moved through, making road travel extremely hazardous.
Across the country, at least 30 people have died since the punishing winter weather began last week. Some died in crashes on icy roads, others succumbed to the cold and others were killed when desperate attempts at warmth turned deadly.
The power outages were national, with tens of thousands without electricity in Kentucky, West Virginia and Louisiana, according to PowerOutage.us, a website that tracks electricity outages. More than 160,000 people in Oregon remained without power on Wednesday morning.
But the worst outages were in Texas. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the state’s power grid, said early Wednesday that more than 600,000 homes had electricity restored overnight but that about 2.7 million customers remained without power.
Austin Energy, which serves the state’s capital, said its customers should be prepared to not have power through Wednesday and possibly longer. Austin’s mayor, Steve Adler, had urged residents to use electricity as sparingly as possible in hopes of staving off further shutdowns, using flashlights and candles if able.
“If you have power, please try to live almost like you don’t,” Mr. Adler said. “If you have heat, run it low. Run it lower.”
The pleas for conservation were received with grim irony by many on social media, who pointed to the stark line separating a downtown Austin still brightly lit and a powerless East Austin, a traditionally Black and Hispanic part of the city.
The strain revealed the vulnerabilities of a distressed system and set off a political fight as lawmakers called for hearings and an inquiry into the Electric Reliability Council.
In San Antonio on Tuesday, Ricardo Cruz, 42, said his family had been without electricity since Monday evening. Calls to the power company, he said, had been fruitless.
“I’m kind of angry,” he said as he stepped out of his home to warm up his truck so he could drive his five children and wife around to keep warm. “They can’t do nothing about it.”
Here’s some good news for storm-battered communities across the United States: The brutal weather that has killed at least 30 people, disrupted vaccine distribution and left millions without power has moved on.
Now for more bad news: Frigid air may persist in the Great Plains and Mississippi Valley through midweek, and a new winter storm is expected to sweep across the South and East over the next two days. More than 100 million Americans are under some type of winter weather-related warning, the National Weather Service said.
“Not anxiously awaiting tonight’s model guidance on the storm forecast to hit Virginia Thursday,” Jim Duncan, a meteorologist at an NBC affiliate in Richmond, Va., said on Twitter on Tuesday night. “Being a meteorologist at this time brings no joy, but distress.”
The South is already reeling from a rare cold snap. The temperature in Houston on Monday night — 13 degrees — was lower than that in Houston, Alaska. And Oklahoma’s capital on Tuesday experienced its coldest morning since 1899.
That will continue for at least another few days. High temperatures this week will likely be 25 to 40 degrees below average across a swath of the Central and Southern United States, the Weather Service said.
There will also be more precipitation. As of Tuesday morning, nearly three-quarters of the continental United States was blanketed in snow, the greatest extent on record since the National Water Center created a database for that in 2003. And the forecast calls for even more snow this week, from the Southern Plains to the Mississippi Valley.
Meteorologists also expect “significant freezing rain” and ice accumulations of half an inch from the Gulf Coast into Tennessee. A long list of winter weather warnings, advisories and watches were in effect on Tuesday evening.
These graphics depict the next 3 day snowfall and ice accumulation potential. Several inches of snow has already fallen in the TX panhandle, and 1-2 inches more is possible. Swaths of a half inch of ice will be possible in the red areas from TX to MS & the Mid-Atl. pic.twitter.com/uvxvFI1yFR
— National Weather Service (@NWS) February 17, 2021
After pummeling the South, the new storm will head through the Ohio Valley, the Mid-Atlantic region and the Northeast by Wednesday or Thursday, the National Weather Service said. Parts of Appalachia may receive up to six inches of snow. Virginia and North Carolina could also face fresh bouts of ice and freezing rain.
It won’t be bitterly cold everywhere, but even places where the snow lets up — in the Deep South and beyond — may face scattered rain showers and isolated thunderstorms.
At least 31 people in eight states have died in the winter storm that has swept across the United States this week, the authorities said, with car crashes and carbon monoxide poisoning responsible for many of the deaths.
In Houston, a woman and a girl died from carbon monoxide poisoning after a car was left running in a garage to generate heat, the police said. A homeless man was also found dead at an overpass. And a man who was found dead on a median in midtown Houston on Monday was suspected to have died from the extreme cold, the Harris County sheriff said.
A grandmother and three children were killed in a house fire in Sugar Land, Texa s, early Tuesday in a neighborhood that was without power, according to local news reports. After a spate of weather-related deaths, the medical examiner’s office in Galveston, Texas, on Tuesday requested a temporary morgue trailer as the area entered its third night of cold temperatures.
In southern Louisiana, a man died after slipping on the ice and hitting his head, officials said, and a 10-year-old boy died in Tennessee after falling into an icy pond. The authorities in San Antonio said that weather conditions contributed to the death of a 78-year-old man.
Slippery roads were responsible for 10 deaths in Kentucky and Texas, including a pileup last week in Fort Worth that involved more than 100 vehicles and killed six people. A man in Mississippi was killed on Monday after his car overturned on an icy road.
In Missouri, a 59-year-old man was killed when a snowplow collided with his pick up truck on Monday afternoon. Similarly, a man in Cleveland was killed after rear-ending a snowplow on Tuesday.
In Toledo, Ohio, on Tuesday a man plowing his driveway using an A.T.V. was hit and killed when he drove into the path of an SUV.
A person who got out of a vehicle after a car crash in Houston late Monday was also struck and killed.
In Oregon, four people were killed from carbon monoxide poisoning over the weekend, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said on Tuesday. While no details about the deaths were given, the authorities warned people not to use generators inside their homes.
On Tuesday, a 39-year old man was killed and two others were injured when the car they were in left the roadway and hit a streetlight in Edgecliff Village in Texas, the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office said. It said investigators have not ruled out weather conditions as a possible cause.
The weather-driven destruction this week did not come solely from ice and snow; in coastal North Carolina, a tornado killed three people and injured at least 10 others early Tuesday morning, though it was unclear if it was meteorologically related to the winter storm.
Large parts of the Central and Southern United States have been plunged into an energy crisis this week with electric grids damaged by frigid blasts of Arctic weather. Millions of Americans are without power amid dangerously cold temperatures.
The grid failures were most severe in Texas, where nearly three million customers woke up Wednesday morning facing power failures. On Tuesday, Gov. Greg Abbott called for an emergency reform of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, saying the operator of the state’s power grid “has been anything but reliable over the past 48 hours.”
Analysts have begun to identify a few key factors behind the grid failures in Texas. Record-breaking cold weather spurred residents to crank up their electric heaters and pushed demand for electricity beyond the worst-case scenarios that grid operators had planned for.
Texas Experienced Widespread Power Outages After the Storm
Percentage of customers without power
Percentage of customers without power
Percentage of customers without power
Percentage of customers without power
Source: PowerOutage.us | Data as of 5:15 p.m. Eastern time on Feb. 16.
At the same time, many of the state’s gas-fired power plants were knocked offline amid icy conditions, and some plants appeared to suffer fuel shortages as natural gas demand spiked nationwide. Many of Texas’ wind turbines also froze and stopped working, although this was a smaller part of the problem.
The resulting electricity shortfalls forced grid operators in Texas to impose rotating blackouts on homes and businesses, starting Monday, to avert a broader collapse of the system. Separate regional grids in the Southwest and Midwest are also coming under serious strain this week.
The crisis highlighted a deeper warning for power systems throughout the country. Electric grids can be engineered to handle a wide range of severe conditions — as long as grid operators can reliably predict the dangers ahead. But as climate change accelerates, many electric grids will face novel and extreme weather events that go beyond the historical conditions those grids were designed for, putting the systems at risk of catastrophic failure.
The dangerous winter weather has delayed shipments of vaccine doses to New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said on Wednesday, preventing officials from scheduling between 30,000 and 35,000 new vaccination appointments and complicating a rollout already constrained by a limited supply of doses.
The problems in New York City, which could extend to suburbs and neighboring states, came as vaccination efforts have been disrupted nationwide. Clinics have closed and shipments have been stalled as snow and ice grounded flights and made highways dangerously slick. Many of the closures and cancellations have been in the South, where the storm hit hardest, with Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Kentucky canceling or rescheduling appointments this week.
Jeffrey D. Zients, President Biden’s coronavirus response coordinator, said on Wednesday that the Biden administration is pushing governors to extend the hours of vaccination sites once they reopen.
“People are working as hard as they can, given the importance of getting the vaccines to the states and to providers, but there’s an impact on deliveries,” he said.
Mr. de Blasio said he did not know when the shipments would arrive next or which specific weather conditions were snarling the shipments.
“It’s obviously a national problem what’s happening with the weather, and it is gumming up supply lines all over the country,” Mr. de Blasio said.
In New York City, like other places across the country, the demand for vaccinations far outstrips the supply allocated each week. Mr. de Blasio said on Wednesday that the city had about 30,000 doses on hand, and that those could run out by Thursday.
“We’re going to run out of what we have now,” he said. “We could be doing hundreds of thousands more each week.”
The weather has caused problems for the city’s vaccination efforts before. A heavy snowstorm earlier this month had forced city and state officials to delay appointments for days until driving conditions improved.
On Wednesday, Mr. de Blasio said the city was bracing for another bout of snow on Thursday, with forecasts predicting about six or seven inches of accumulation.
As bone-chilling arctic weather blasts the southern and central parts of the United States, power grids are strained and millions of people unaccustomed to the sight of snow are trying to figure out how to stay warm.
Some have turned to risky sources of heat, including gas-powered generators, ovens and even automobiles. At least two people died and about 100 were sickened by carbon monoxide poisoning over 16 hours spanning Monday and Tuesday in the Houston area, the authorities said.
Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, weakness, dizziness and nausea, according to the Firelands Regional Medical Center in Sandusky, Ohio. People who are “sleeping or drunk” can die from the condition before they experience symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Carbon monoxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, is colorless and odorless, making it harder to detect than other dangerous substances. But carbon monoxide poisoning is “entirely preventable,” the C.D.C. says.
The agency has urged people to have working carbon monoxide detectors, and warned against heating homes with a gas oven or burning anything in a stove or fireplace that is not vented.
Indoor use of charcoal, gasoline-powered engines, or even portable gas camp stoves is also dangerous, health and safety officials say. They also warn against running generators or cars inside to heat homes.
In Houston, the police said this week that a woman and a girl had been killed by carbon monoxide poisoning after a car was left running in an attached garage “to create heat as the power is out.” A man and a boy were also hospitalized.
In Oregon, four people were killed from carbon monoxide poisoning over the weekend, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office said on Tuesday.
Texans who are struggling with a winter storm that has inflicted widespread losses of electricity and natural gas now have something else to worry about: how to avoid a scam.
The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, the operator managing the flow of electricity to more than 26 million customers, has warned residents of a scam circulating on social media that asks people to text their private account numbers. “Don’t do it! We don’t need any of your info to get your power back on — we are working as fast as we possibly can,” ERCOT said.
On Wednesday, ERCOT said that 2.7 million households in Texas did not have power.
The Federal Trade Commission, the government agency that tracks these types of fraud, says that scammers surface in nearly every instance of human suffering, concocting stories of fake solutions that they try to sell to people desperate for money, shelter, health or even love.
In 2020, the F.T.C. received nearly 500,000 reports of impostor scams, the most widespread type of fraud in which a scammer pretends to be a person, or from a government agency or a business.
People reported $1.2 billion in losses to scams last year, with a median loss of $850, it said. The top categories of scams were related to Covid-19 and stimulus payments, “proving once again, that scammers follow the headlines,” the F.T.C. said.
In Texas, those headlines have been focused on the record-low temperatures of a winter storm that damaged the electrical grid’s infrastructure as well as caused a spike in demand.
The F.T.C. suggests there are several ways to recognize when an unsolicited call or email is a scam. The caller will often insist that you act immediately and specify forms of payment, such as a gift card or through a money transfer company, or say there is a problem, or a prize. They also pretend to be from a known company or organization.
The F.T.C. advises people to block unwanted calls and text messages, and to avoid providing personal or financial information.
Several animal species have been threatened by record-low temperatures in Texas this week, including about 3,500 sea turtles that were rescued and brought to the relative safety of dry land.
In cold temperatures, turtles can fall victim to a condition called a “cold stun,” when their body temperatures fall so low that they lose their ability to swim, eat or even hold their head above water.
“You could put a cold-stunned turtle in a half an inch of water and they’d drown,” said Wendy Knight, the executive director of Sea Turtle Inc., a nonprofit group in South Padre Island, Texas, that is helping keep the turtles safe until they can return to the water.
Turtles that have been rescued by people on beaches or in boats are being put on plastic-covered pallets and allowed to warm for several days in the South Padre Island Convention Center.
Other animals in Texas have also been affected by the storm. A primate sanctuary in North Bexar County reported the cold-related deaths of a chimpanzee, several monkeys, lemurs and tropical birds, according to The San Antonio Express-News. And the El Paso Zoo found and rehabilitated a frigate — a type of sea bird — after it was blown off course.
Ms. Knight said the scale of the cold stun event for sea turtles was the largest in decades and could have a population-level impact. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, five sea turtle species found in Texas are listed under the Endangered Species Act as “endangered” or “threatened.”
Also at immediate risk are a few dozen turtles housed at the Sea Turtle headquarters, where most are being rehabilitated for injuries. The facility is approaching its third day without power.
A winter storm delivered snow and ice across the United States this week, bringing frigid temperatures and rolling blackouts to parts of the country that are unaccustomed to severe winter weather.
Most late-night hosts took the week of Presidents’ Day off, but Trevor Noah and Jimmy Kimmel were on Tuesday night with a rare weather report.
“If you’re watching us from home right now, the good news is you have power,” Mr. Kimmel said.